Faces

Posted in Uncategorized on July 8, 2013 by frumpunk

Our faces reflect who we are and what we’ve experienced. Someone who has never had to struggle for something meaningful will reflect that in an open trusting expression. They can smile easily but it’s a blank smile devoid of purpose, a standard greeting to anyone they see. Someone who’s had to learn to trust people again will have a wary smile, if it’s not genuine it’ll look forced but the upshot is that when they smile you know they mean it with every fiber of their being.

All converts are equal as Jews but not all converts are equal in the struggle to attain that status. A pretty girl with a non-Jewish mother re-discovers her roots. She goes before the Beis Din, she’s young pretty and charming, a valuable asset to the community, especially with so many single young men. She dives head first into it, aided by her wealthy parents suddenly buying a rental property in the heart of the Jewish community for her to live in. With her looks and warmth she’s quickly accepted by the community and within a year they declare her conversion complete. Her smile is happy and genuine but reflects no true understanding of her good fortune, that’s this is not the way it always is.

A Korean girl discovers the beauty of Judaism in her late teens. She makes multiple inquests to the Beis Din. By Halacha they turn her down several times, but she insists and perseveres. Rejected by some more right wing Beis Dins she carves a path for herself and completes an Orthodox conversion in a more liberal community. Having struggled for so long she recognizes the beauty of halacha and it’s ever so much sweeter for the work. She chooses to hold to higher standards of kashrus above most of her peers and continues learning both for the joy and intellectual struggle. Despite her personal accomplishments she’s always aware of the strange looks she’ll get in a new shul and she’ll ignore the whispering gossipers wondering who she is and what she’s doing here. She’ll be polite even to the misguided ones who assume she must be merely there as a shabbos helper to an elderly woman and ask her to serve as a shabbos goy. Her smile is genuine but the pain is there nonetheless. She’s always aware that despite wanting to be as strict as possible in a way she also must as it’s the only way to prove to them that this is her birthright too and she’s claimed it harder than they can comprehend.

A girl from Minnesota with no Jewish background finds something to admire in the Jews she meets. She’s never had to struggle for anything thus far and she couldn’t start now. She doesn’t know how to. Finding the path to Orthodox conversion strenuous she opts for a Conservative one, rationalizing that with that under her belt she can move up the ladder in an easier fashion in the future. After her programs completion she lives as an semi-Orthodox Jew, with her lack of credentials a secret. She wants to marry a Jewish boy and live a Jewish life but that’s on the back-burner while she integrates into the community and joins the struggle of the orthodox egalitarian movement. Her smile is open and open to all, but with nothing behind it she offers nothing with it. She likes to talk about getting stares when she walks into a new shul for being so mid-western and blond. It’s a game to her and she doesn’t recognize the pain this causes her Korean friend who only feels anxiety at the new shul stare. She isn’t mean on purpose, she’s just never had to fight for anything, and therefore can’t recognize the face of someone who has. Her biggest struggles so far are related to ex-boyfriends and looking at the world through this prism she’s confused why some people seem so reserved. She doesn’t understand the idea that a smile is only as good as the meaning behind it.

A girl from an immigrant family discovers Judaism on her own. Fighting her own family and their deep religious faith she struggles to find acceptance in a Beis Din that demands a complete break with her previous life. Instead she shoulders the burden of acquiescing to everyone’s request, unwilling to break off any family ties yet also unwilling to let go of this new beauty she’s discovered. When she walks into a shul she doesn’t have to worry about a questioning stare but she also doesn’t delight in it. For her it isn’t about the thrill of the new or impressing the ladies with naturally blond hair spilling over her siddur. She’s here for the struggle that’s eternal, of studying it and internalizing it. She’s here to struggle because that’s all she’s ever known. Her conversion takes longer than she’d ever dreaded because the demands of the Beis Din must coexist with the demands of her family. She can’t easily live near a shul because her commitments must keep her close to home, so instead she lives amongst strangers from lecha dodi to havdallah but only on the weeks when she doesn’t feel up to the walk from her home to the community. Her smile is shy and reserved because she doesn’t know how to give it easily. All she knows is the struggle and the struggle becomes her. But it’s the brightest of them all.

The Purest

Posted in Food, Funny?, Kashrus, Me, Yom Tov on May 6, 2011 by frumpunk

If my calculations are correct, and I have no reason to assume otherwise, this is the fourth article I’ve written concerning my Pesach experiences to date. The first was silly, a pithy piece using found photos to illustrate the madness involved in Pesach cleaning by displaying an apartment completely clothed in aluminum foil. The second was personal, and involved my ill fated seder when I tried to actually drink four cups of wine. Sweet red wine, as recommended by my cousin, whom I love very much but is sadly, somewhat of an imbecile. The third post conveyed my further dissatisfaction with the four cups motif when I felt sick to my stomach purely as the result of big cups of grape juice; a sacramental drink (seriously, check the label) that apparently contains enough sugar to power a small factory, or at the very least, to fuel the dreams of every kid in Ramat Beit Shemesh of running from one end of the town to the other, screaming continuously. While the sugar attacking my system didn’t make me scream, it was enough to inspire a short lived superhero based on me named Sucrose Man. He had the power to vomit crime off the streets. Okay, down the drain. Whatever.

This one however, comes neither to damn wine nor praise it. Honestly, I don’t care anymore. My body refuses to tolerate fermented grapes, I can accept that. I get through the seder with grape juice, but just a bit. Whoever once fed me the line about having to drink the whole cup to fulfill the mitzvah can go pleasure themselves with a rusty car door. Try a Ford Focus, the rounded sides will make a world of difference. This year I managed to get bothered by the side products, the things we buy kosher for Pesach despite the ingredients list being exactly the same as normal, ie, they didn’t contain wheat in the first place. You know, the chocolates, the cheese, the mayonnaise. Our mayo this year came courtesy of a brand called ‘Goodies’, which I’d never heard of and assumed to be a Geffen product at first glance. I recommend you never hear of it either, unless you want mayo that instantly separates into semi-liquified egg bits and warm oil when exposed to any temperature warmer than a polar bears waterbed. You know what else I only just realized this year? Kosher for Pesach Coke and Pepsi are a crock. Oh sure, it makes sense in America where any beverage with more ingredients than water is pumped full of corn syrup, but in the civilized world it’s always contained cane sugar anyway. You know what they do at Coke bottling plants in Israel for Pesach? Print out a new label. Then laugh a maniacal laugh that they spent the rest of the year practicing (one assumes) as they export it all over Europe at a markup that makes the price of bread in post World War One Germany seem an absolute bargain.

The best thing we had this year though? The water. Pure Spring Water, absolutitious, and 100% Kosher for Pesach. It had three hechshars and a PI rating of 67, which I think means it gets to insult lesser waters on the supermarket shelf while it waits for that special balabusta to scoop it up, the one that has to make sure that the water her family drinks this Pesach contains absolutely no bread, wheat, flour or thrift. I read the label during a particularly strenuous bout of “Ha Lachma Anya”. Turns out it gets filtered naturally at the source. Which simply means they don’t do a single thing to it before feeding it into their own bottling plants, other than using their own filtration systems, because while everyone likes the idea of drinking from a pure babbling brook in the mountains, those pure babbling brooks contain plenty of pure babbling insects. Insects who pee and fornicate in your water. Where do you think they do it?

I’ve worked kosher supervision before. It’s one of the better unskilled jobs, if one of the more boring, and I really like to imagine somewhere out there is a rabbi. He’s standing by a natural stream of freshwater, somewhere in the mountains. He’s thinking of all the relevant halachas that could be involved in making sure the water people drink this year will be Kosher for Pesach. People who trust him enough to cast the fate of their Pesach in his hands. His eyes are closed in concentration. He opens them, just wide enough to see a figure. A figure on the other side of the water. With a loaf of bread. Feeding the ducks.

It’s Not Always Anti-Semitism

Posted in Me, Politics, Rants, Zombie Nazis! on March 4, 2011 by frumpunk

Two police officers knocked on my door yesterday. Apparently they’d had a call about suspicious activity at my house, something about someone calling in that they didn’t recognize my car. They said there had been some break-ins in the area recently. They checked my license against the car registration, got confirmation that I did indeed live here and own the car, apologized and left. The whole thing was very cordial.

I told my friend about it after and his response was “I guess you have an anti-Semite for a neighbor”, which really annoyed me. Whats the origin of this knee-jerk reaction that any seemingly negative thing involving a Jew is a product of someone with a deep-seated hatred of Jews? Based on what the cops said, it’s safe to assume I have a skittish neighbor, probably an older person with the free time to observe the neighborhood and worry about things, especially if there have indeed been burglaries in the area.

I’m halfway curious and halfway disturbed at the idea that I have friends who apparently view the world through the prism of “he hates me, she probably hates me, I think I saw her smirk at my yarmulka when she handed me my coffee…” I can recognize the origins somewhat. My generation grew up with a plethora of holocaust literature and stories from the shtetl, all of which can reinforce the idea that you live in a dark world where your local barista is just waiting for an Austrian dictator to ship you off so he can loot your house and take your stuff. I’m mocking a bit, sure, but I’d rather think that I have an overly cautious person on my street who’s suspicious of youngins, than someone shaking a fist at that damn Jew while thumbing a dog-eared copy of Mein Kampf.

Election Day

Posted in Me, Politics, Uncategorized on November 10, 2010 by frumpunk

The first time I was old enough to vote was during the 2004 showdown of Bush Vs Kerry. I was in yeshiva at the time and I remember a few weeks before the election the rosh yeshiva giving an address to the entire beis medrash informing us that the gedolim had instructed everyone who was old enough to vote for George Bush. At the time I didn’t question it, mainly because I didn’t really care about politics, but I do remember there was one guy in the entire yeshiva who was planning to vote democrat, and surprisingly, was actually “out of the closet” about it. He would debate anyone who was willing about his reasons to vote for Kerry, which if I remember correctly were based around the idea that he would be good for the economy and had better policies. I remember there was no real reason given for why we were all supposed to vote republican, probably because I suspect it was to do with gay marriage and other issues that were best not talked about. Fact was we didn’t care about politics anyway and if the gedolim told us to vote republican then that’s what we would do, and who was going to question daas torah?

Today I feel qualified to make up my own mind on whom to vote for. I tend to vote Democrat and not just because I’m a filthy socialist who wants to see America brought down from the inside. I can’t front, it’s because I pretty much see Republicans as hippocrites who use the family values platform to gain the votes of the poor and religious and then slash taxes for the rich and big business to get the votes of everyone else, at least everyone else above the wealth line. Though I do think Republicans have their uses. Christine O’Donnell alone filled comedy show scripts for weeks.

One of my teachers in high school was a fantastically wealthy guy who taught school simply because he didn’t have to work anymore. I personally, would have spent that time building a lair under a volcano and investing in pinky rings and cats, but that was his choice. I remember right after Bush was elected for the first time, he came into class, sat in his chair, leaned far back with his hands behind his head and said “Bush… that’s my guy. I’m buying three cars this year because of this tax cut they’re passing.”

I guess the connection between Republicans and wealthy was made for me when I was that young. Or maybe I’m wrong and still have to figure out where I really fit into politics.

Check back with me in ten years.

I’m Not Israeli

Posted in Israel, Me on August 1, 2010 by frumpunk

I’m not Israeli, I’m Jewish. I don’t have a middle eastern culture, I don’t like humus or tahina, heck, I don’t even like falafel. How do I feel about israel? Well I’m certainly not against it. I absolutely recognize israel in it’s historical context as far as the history and traditions of Judaism go and I also recognize the cultural and religious ties to the land inherent in Judaism. What I don’t feel though, is any obligation to have to automatically defend, argue or debate the current political landscape or recent history of the land of israel under it’s modern government and it’s policies or decisions. I’m not some sort of anti-Zionist or neturai karta, I just don’t feel that simply being Jewish makes me some sort of expert on how other Jews thousands of miles away feel about things and certainly I don’t feel any insight to explain or defend the decisions of a government in a country that I don’t hold citizenship in.

I’ve been mulling this fact over for a fair few years now, basically ever since I entered secular society and the workforce and realized that people seemed to decide my opinion on issues related to the middle east automatically, based on my act of wearing a yarmulke.

Let me be clear. I’ve visited israel and I support the right of my fellow Jews to have their home, but I barely manage to have time to keep up with what congress or parliament are doing, never mind the Knesset.

(Post written on my phone at 4am. Please excuse the spelling or grammatical errors.)

The Final Countdown

Posted in Food, Frum, Funny?, Yom Tov on July 12, 2010 by frumpunk

It’s getting late, down to the wire. It’s not about the food anymore – hasn’t been for longer than you can remember. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. How many spoonfuls has it been? Don’t know, don’t care. You have to keep going. Suddenly you regret all those supermarket trips. Did you need that much ground beef? Were you really going to use that chicken? Doesn’t matter now. There’s no time for regrets and there’s no time to ponder. You have to keep eating. Two more spoonfuls and half the plate of meatloaf is gone. Only three more trays and half a chicken. You can do it. You know you can because you must. You check the clock again. A bead of sweat drops by your plate, more evidence of your foolish overcooking. You question your zealotry. You promise to change, to be better, to learn how to portion and conserve. You’d promise anything to not have to keep eating meat; everything that won’t keep or freeze for the next nine days. You’d feel guilty for having the pain of over-consumption in a world where millions starve, but you can’t. You’re too bloated to think of anything but the inevitable bowel movement this will end in and the porcelain havoc it’s sure to wreak.

And there you are. You’re consumed with that odd blend of sickness and pride that comes from finishing all the meat in your fridge before the nine days. Like sushi in a bad restaurant it creates an awkward sensation in your stomach and one that you hope you don’t have to meet again later that night.

But for now, you’re done. Your mother will be so proud.

Why My Kids Will Be Frum

Posted in Frum, Me, Rants on May 23, 2010 by frumpunk

When I was growing up, my mother worked in a daycare center, which for a time was ran out of our house when they were between premises. So for about a year when I was in high school I would wake up to the sound of my mom regaling the kids with the classic songs, both secular and Jewish. The kids learned about Old McDonald along with songs teaching them how to count in Hebrew and how they celebrated shabbos. My mom still works with little children, but now it’s for a different daycare center catering to kids with down syndrome and other learning disabilities. The kids come from homes ranging from the more secular side of modern orthodox to chassidic, so the place is run according to the strictest rules. Certain things have changed. It’s no longer Old McDonald but Old McDovid, and he certainly doesn’t have any pigs that go ‘oink’ or any horses that go ‘neigh’. In fact, any non-kosher animals are even expunged from the picture books the kids read along with any mention of bacon, Christmas or people not named Shloimy. I asked my mom what the reason for that was and she explained that some parents don’t want their kids learning about anything not related to their tiny little corner of the world they’ve carved out for themselves, as though hearing that pigs exist will make them want to go eat some bacon and hearing about holidays celebrated by the wider world around them will plant the seeds for these kids to put on their best red hats and drop Chanukkah for Christmas first chance they get.

It reminded me of a time a few years ago when I was visiting somewhere with one of my cousins. When my uncle, his father, became religious he went all out, and this kid literally knew nothing outside of his parents house where he slept and the yeshiva down the street where he spent his days. Already a teenager, I wanted to go into a store to buy a drink and he refused to go with me. Why? Because “there were goyim in there who would try to beat him up”. I thought he was joking at first, but he was very serious. It wasn’t until later I thought about it and realized that I was dealing with someone for whom non-Jews are the people in the Holocaust biographies and stories from Poland where the evil Poretz throws the pious, but poor, Jewish family in his dungeon for not paying enough money. He’d never even been grocery shopping or to a theme park. For him, non-Jews were the villain and every last one of them was out to get him.

My kids aren’t going to grow up in a situation where their Judaism is true to them only because it’s all they know. They’re going to know people from different groups and backgrounds. They’re going to be educated and they’re going to be religious because they’ve studied the Torah and know it to be true, not because they’ve not been allowed to ever think for themselves lest they dare make a decision rather than follow what they’re told. They’ll be religious for the same reason I am; because having had the choice and seen the world the truth of the Torah that they’ve learned rings truer than the other options. They won’t be thrown into the world without being raised frum and having the reason for everything they do explained to them and shown to them, but neither will they be so sheltered that they’re frum because they’re too scared to think otherwise. Is it really a devotion to Hashem if you do something because it’s all you know, rather than doing it out of your own free will and coming to do that mitzvah for a love of Hashem and recognizing the truth in the commandments?

There’s more to this than just raising young children to be overly sheltered or not. One of my rabbis at Ohr Someach coined a term for people who are practising but non-believing Jewish adults. He calls them ‘Culturally Frum’. The all too common situation of someone who has a shabbos meal and put on tefillin without believing a G-d even exists. He might even consider himself an atheist, yet he continues to live as part of a frum community, and not just because he’s married or has other commitments keeping him there. These are people who live a frum lifestyle without any of the religious belief that should be driving it simply because they’re comfortable there. It’s all they know and they don’t even feel a pull to throw off the pretence and live a secular lifestyle. They’re frum externally because that’s what everyone else around them is. They come from frum families and they have frum friends. They want to marry a frum girl and keep the pretence going because they couldn’t even relate to a secular girl or don’t want to complicate their parents with that situation. In my opinion it’s no different than being devoutly frum while believing that given the chance the next non-Jew you encounter will throw you in his dungeon. It’s only being halfway there.

I’m frum because I’ve studied and learned and given thought to it. Blind observance isn’t a mitzvah and being an inward atheist isn’t doing frum people any favors. Both are a form of self-delusion. I want to give my kids the chance to know why they must to or not do certain things and I want them to reach marriageable age with the intellectual honesty that lets them do it because they believe in it, not simply because I made them do it growing up. And definitely not because I didn’t let them know the existence of Old McDonald and his farm of oinks, neighs and barks.

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